I recently moved into a new community and I am in the process of working with landscape architects to redo my front yard.
Our association has a review and approval process before we can make any changes to our property, but the application is long, complicated and requires that I get my neighbor to approve the design first.
My neighbor and I do not get along and they will not approve my plans.
Can my neighbor keep me from redoing my front yard? I would also like to start the work immediately and I am concerned this approval process will hold things up.
What are the ramifications if I just install a new front yard and ask for forgiveness later for not getting approval first?
DR HOA — Thank you for the great question! The architectural review process is something that many association homeowners do not clearly understand.
Nearly every homeowners association has an architectural review process, requiring that owners obtain formal approval from the association prior to commencing any improvements to their home or property.
Pursuant to the association’s governing documents, the review and approval process is typically overseen by an appointed architectural committee; however, I am aware of communities where the association’s board of directors acts as the review committee.
It is absolutely critical that owners obtain association approval prior to performing any work on their property.
Failure to do so may result in the association requiring the owner to remove the new improvements and return the property to its original condition.
Such corrective actions have been supported by the California courts. To avoid potential legal action and additional expenses, I highly recommend that homeowners strictly follow the association’s architectural guidelines, including the application and approval process.
Architectural guidelines and the approval process are typically outlined in the association’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. I encourage homeowners to review not only their association’s CC&Rs, but any other association adopted architectural guidelines prior to planning any property improvements.
Clearly understanding the association’s architectural guidelines as well as the formal approval process will help ensure a smooth, expedited review process.
Although most architectural applications require owners get proposed improvements signed-off by their adjacent neighbors, most associations consider this sign off to be an acknowledgement rather than an actual approval or denial.
As a result, even if a neighbor objects to the proposed improvements, the association may still approve the application.
The application’s homeowner acknowledgement form is simply meant to put neighbors on notice of the proposed plans and provide them an opportunity to address any questions or concerns directly with their neighbor, or with the association’s architectural committee and/or board of directors.
Ideally, if a neighbor objects to aspects of an owners proposed improvements, the neighbors work together to alter the plans to satisfy both parties.
For example, I recently experienced a situation where an owner was proposing improvements to their rear yard.
The plans called for the installation of a 24-inch box tree adjacent to the shared property line wall. Concerned about future maintenance and the potential for the tree to encroach on the adjacent property as it matures, the owner proposing the improvements agreed to move the tree away from the shared wall.
Unfortunately there are times when neighbors do not get along and a compromise is not feasible. In these instances, it is likely that any proposed improvement would be poorly received.
The association has the right and obligation to review the architectural application based on the guidelines set forth in the governing documents.
So long as the submitting owner was diligent about trying to obtain neighbor acknowledgement signatures, the proposed improvements meet the required guidelines, and the design is harmonious with the aesthetic theme of the community, whether or not a neighbor executes the acknowledgement form should not necessarily impact the association’s final decision.